- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) — Capital Comment — Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Right moves …

Another Mississippi state legislator has crossed the aisle. State Rep. John Read of Gautier, first elected to the House as a Democrat in 1992, has changed his affiliation and will run for a fourth term as a Republican. Read is the fifth Mississippi lawmaker to change to the GOP since state Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck jumped the fence in December. "I've always been a conservative," Read told local reporters. "A lot of people have always assumed that I was a Republican." Counting Read, the state House now has 37 Republicans, 82 Democrats and three independents.

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Sorry, wrong number …

It appears a tiff has broken out among members of the Federal Communications Commission over the ongoing issue of telecommunications deregulation. Commissioner Kevin Martin is trying to prevent some of his colleagues from moving ahead with changes in the telecom industry's regulatory framework that some charge may wipe out competition in the market for local phone service.

A proposal currently under consideration by the FCC would eliminate the unbundled network elements platform, called UNE-P, provision of the 1996 telecommunications reform act. Under UNE-P, potential competitors to the "Baby Bell" companies are guaranteed the ability to lease space on local networks at reasonable wholesale rates. According to the Small Business Survival Committee, a Washington trade association, "Local network leasing is the primary reason that independent competitors to the Bells now provide local telecom service to 11 million small businesses and consumers who formerly had no alternative to the inflated rates and indifferent service offered by the Bell companies." According to studies cited by the SBSC, American small businesses would save almost $6 billion per year if the UNE-P provision were fully implemented.

Martin has his work cut out for him, however. Leading the charge for getting rid of UNE-P is FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

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Is there a lawyer in the house?

President George W. Bush's proposal to limit medical liability as part of the effort to get American healthcare costs down is attracting a lot of attention. On Tuesday, the United States Chamber of Commerce and Congressional Quarterly are co-sponsoring a forum on the subject that brings together some of the major players on the issue.

The program, which begins at 8:30 a.m., includes presentations from Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, and Dr. Donald Palmisano, the president-elect of the American Medical Association. Interested parties may register online at USChamber.com/ncf/events.

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Drug wheeling and dealing …

Several members of the U.S. House, led by New York Democrat Joseph Crowley, are asking pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKlein to reconsider a corporate decision to discontinue shipments to wholesalers that make pharmaceuticals available to American seniors at lower Canadian costs. Crowley says the move "will be hurting, not helping, the lives of seniors."

"In the big picture," he says, "more seniors will be forced to deal with completely preventable pain and discomfort. More seniors will die before their time because they were unable to afford the medications their physicians prescribed."

The company says the move to stop the sale of cross-border pharmaceuticals is being taken to protect consumers — keeping products damaged or mishandled in the mails away from them.

Other members of Congress signing the letter include Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Pete Stark, D-Calif.; and Jim McDermott, D-Wash.

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Clone home …

Opponents of human cloning are calling the newly introduced Hatch-Feinstein-Specter legislation a sham ban. The tripartite proposal from — Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa. — permits the creation of human clone embryos if the clone is not permitted to live for more than two weeks. Cloning opponents are throwing their support behind Kansas GOP Sen. Sam Brownback's bill imposing a complete ban on human cloning for any reason.

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Sign on the dotted line …

Nobel-prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, Franco Modigliani of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Lawrence R. Klein of the University of Pennsylvania, along with seven other Nobel laureates, are coming out publicly against the Bush administration's proposed tax cut.

In a statement set to appear in Tuesday's New York Times, the laureates, along with 450 other economists say the administration's tax cut proposal "will not only fail to help the economy in the short run, but will also weaken it over the longer term by deepening projected deficits." The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal public policy group based in Washington, pulled the statement together.

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I'm putting on my top hat, tying up my white tie …

On Saturday, those who care to may take a trip back into the grandeur that was once Europe as the Committee for Western Civilization hosts its annual Evening of Viennese Waltzing. The white tie and tails event held, as ever, at the Organization of American States building, is something of a Washington tradition, now in its 21st year. Austrian Airlines is offering a door prize of two free tickets to Vienna. The committee may also sponsor a trip to Vienna for what it calls "the ball season" later in the year.

Persons interested in either event may contact the committee by e-mail at cwestciv@yahoo.com

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